Digital Project Managers: Make Everyone’s Job Easy

A long time ago, when just starting out in digital project management I remember a mentor of mine giving me a line to use in an interview when he heard the Head of Web Development would be in on the interview, he told me to make sure I say:

My role as a Digital Project Manager is to make the web developer’s jobs stress-free.

At the time I thought this was just a fancy little trick to make the guy give me an interview gold star from his point of view, however, in my subsequent years as a Digital Project Manager I’ve come to realise this wasn’t just a nice line to use – it’s actually one of the core principles of being a good Digital Project Manager and actually extends further than web developers.

I now believe that one underlying line in any Digital Project Manager Job description should be:

My role as Digital Project Manager is to make everyone’s job as productive and stress-free as possible.

One of my mentors

With focus on web designers and developers, but true for the whole project team, let me explain…

Web Team Expertise Focus

Over the years I’ve seen digital agencies making big mistakes when it comes to effective digital project management. One of the most common mistakes was having production team members e.g. web designers and developers performing digital project management tasks rather than keeping them focussed on what they do best, designing and developing.

Web designers and web developers are highly skilled people and nothing will destroy their passion, productivity and morale quicker than having them involved in areas of a digital project that stop them from doing what they love and do best, designing and developing.

The range of tasks that can stop these experts from doing what they’re hired to do are endless, but what is finite is that when it comes to digital project team management, one primary goal of a Digital Project Manager is to do everything within their power to ensure these guys and gals don’t get sidetracked or bogged down in things that will reduce the quality of their work.

The minute this happens the effectiveness of the team is diluted, momentum is reduced and Digital Project Managers need to understand this.

Whether you used to be a web designer or developer or not, you have to appreciate that when these guys are in the zone and working hard to meet deadlines you probably set out for them, stopping to answer the phone, an e-mail or an ad hoc question can seriously break their flow and it takes time to get back into it.

Digital Project Managers Are Stress Sponges

Another key aspect of being a good Digital Project Manager is to keep the production teams as stress-free as possible by absorbing as much stress for them as you can.

This should be included in Digital Project Manager induction packs

Although never on any Digital Project Manager Job description, it should be assumed that part of the role is to basically take crap on behalf of your team in such a way that they don’t even get a whiff of it, even if they’re the cause of it.

During a digital project, there are a zillion things that will happen that will cause stress, but a test of your team management leadership skills is to see how much of this stress you can personally absorb in such a way that your production team don’t feel the heat, why?

Simply because a stressed web designer or developer will not work as well as a happy one.

Why Should I Take All The Crap!?

Many Digital Project Managers out there have asked this question and it’s a valid one, but the answer is because it’s your job.

Think about it, your boss right now, do you think he or she is completely open with all members of their company about all the issues that exist right now? Of course not. While they may be transparent with many about certain workflow or revenue concerns they don’t bother the design or development teams with tax or buildings insurance issues.

Digital Project Managers must shield their teams

There is a reason for this, it’s because it would serve no purpose other than to make everyone worry, and what happens when people are worried? They start to feel negative and this will only result in a negative impact across the entire company.

Although a rather elaborate example, the theory is the same as to why you as a Digital Project Manager should take all the crap you can and shield your digital project team from it – because your job is to keep your team positive, motivated and focussed on their job – and if this means taking some crap you know you don’t deserve then so be it.

If you don’t like the sound of this then you have no business being a Digital Project Manager or a manager of any kind for that matter.

Digital Project Managers Play Rhythm Guitar

If you want to be a good Digital Project Manager you should try to aim to be a rhythm guitarist rather than play lead guitar or sing lead vocals.

By this I mean you should understand that your job is to sit behind the boys and girls that get all the attention for finished products and make sure everything runs smoothly without expecting any glory – for example, in the video below I’m not the pretty boy on lead, but his much wiser looking bandmate on the left… cool eh!

Or as my Dad once told me, a good rhythm guitarist keeps the song going in such a way that when they’re playing you tend not to notice, but if they were taken away you immediately notice and the song falls flat on its face.

I’ve worked on many digital projects in the past where the final website or application was delivered and all the praise was focussed around how beautiful the end product looked or how amazing this or that piece of functionality was – and the point here is that despite no one saying how great the digital project management was, I didn’t mind one bit – I took an enormous amount of silent pleasure at the smiles on the faces of the designers and developers as they were patted on the back.

In many cases only I knew what stresses there was along the way and how much crap I’d taken on behalf of the team, and on occasion how I’d opted to make myself look at fault rather than make sure blame was assigned to who it should’ve been, but I kept it quiet and sat there smiling to myself because I had done my job.

And while this may all sound like some kind of self-proclaimed nobility and humility, it really isn’t. I just adamantly believe that a Digital Project Manager’s greatest success should come in the form of being able to sit back and watch others be praised knowing that behind it all was you – I get more pleasure and satisfaction from that then receiving praise myself and have noticed this is a common trait among Digital Project Managers the more I meet.

But I deserve some credit surely!?

People Aren’t Stupid, Respect Will Come

Of course, Digital Project Managers deserve credit for successful digital projects, but I personally find that this comes over time, but if you’re like me it’s not so much credit that you want, it’s respect, and respect from not only management but the production team too.

Respect lil man!

In the heat of the moment when you’re taking the crap from someone or for someone, it can often make you question why you’re bothering, after all, Digital Project Managers are just human too. Every part of you wants to shout out that actually it’s not your fault and it’s his or hers, and why should you be suffering all the stress when you’re not at fault.

But if you continually stay strong and show strength of character your manager and production teams will start to notice just what part you play in the success and appreciate it.

This not only means you can look yourself in the mirror at night knowing you’ve retained your dignity when others would’ve play the blame game, but you also gain an awful lot of respect that in the long term will actually reduce your own stress levels as people want to work for you more and more.

It’s kind of a strange philosophy but it seems to work – make your mission to make everyone else look good without ever expecting reward or credit, and somehow you end up looking good and receiving reward and credit.

Anyone who sets out on a mission to make themselves look good and receive reward or credit above their team – always seem to end up looking like dickheads.

Digital Project Managers – don’t be a dickhead

So what can you do to minimise getting a ‘dickhead’ label?

Digital Project Manager Anti-Dickhead Tips

Below are my top ten tips of how to make web designer’s and developer’s jobs as easy and stress-free as possible by keeping them focussed on what they do best, which of course makes your digital projects run smoother – if you get some respect along the way then consider it a bonus, not a birthright.

  1. Try to pick the right moments to disturb them with questions e.g. be observant enough to realise when they’re in ‘the zone’
  2. Don’t just forward website or application issues to them, try to identify the problem yourself so they can easily replicate the issue and get to work on the solution rather than investigation
  3. Don’t drag them into meetings they don’t need to be in. If questions come up that they’re best to answer, take a note and get back to whoever once you have the answer
  4. Be willing to push back clients or other teams if they need more time
  5. Never say something is urgent when the truth is it’s easier for you to pressure them than to have an awkward conversation with someone else
  6. Don’t let them work too much overtime to hit a target, if burn out is looking possible, send them home and take crap from the boss yourself
  7. Have the balls to defend your team to management when it would be easier to blame them
  8. Don’t gossip with them about digital project politics, keep that to yourself
  9. Put yourself in their shoes and make sure they get the files and documents they need in an organised manner
  10. Never ever see yourself as above them

Have you got any anti-dickhead tips for keeping digital production teams focussed and stress-free? Let me know in the comments.